Percy's Reliques - Jane Shore.

Jane Shore.

Though so many vulgar errors have prevailed concerning this celebrated courtesan, no character in history has been more perfectly handed down to us. We have her portrait drawn by two masterly pens: the one has delineated the features of her person, the other those of her character and story. Sir Thomas More drew from the life, and Drayton has copied an original picture of her. The reader will pardon the length of the quotations, as they serve to correct many popular mistakes relating to her catastrophe. The first is from Sir Thomas More's History of Richard III, written in 1513, about thirty years after the death of Edward IV.

"Now then by and by, as it wer for anger, not for covetise, the protector sent into the house of Shores wife (for her husband dwelled not with her) and spoiled her of al that ever she had (above the value of two or three thousand marks), and sent her body to prison. And when he had a while laide unto her, for the manner sake, that she went about to bewitch him, and that she was of counsel with the lord chamberlein to destroy him: in conclusion, when that no colour could fasten upon these matters, then he layd heinously to her charge the thing that herselfe could not deny, that al the world wist was true, and that natheles every man laughed at to here it then so sodainly so highly taken -- that she was naught of her body. And for thys cause (as a goodly continent prince, clene and fautless of himself, sent oute of heaven into this vicious world for the amendment of mens maners) he caused the bishop of London to put her to open pennance, going before the crosse in procession upon a Sonday with a taper in her hand. In which she went in countenance and pace demure so womanly; and albeit she was out of al array save her kyrtle only, yet went she so fair and lovely, namelye, while the wondering of the people caste a comly rud in her chekes (of which she before had most misse) that her great shame wan her much praise among those that were more amorous of her body, than curious of her soule. And many good folke also, that hated her living, and glad wer to se sin corrected, yet pittied thei more her penance than rejoiced therin, when thei considred that the protector procured it more of a corrupt intent, than any virtuous affection.

"This woman was born in London, worshipfully frended, honestly brought up, and very wel maryed, saving somewhat to soone; her husband an honest citizen, yonge, and goodly, and of good substance. But forasmuche as they were coupled ere she wer wel ripe, she not very fervently loved, for whom she never longed; which was happely the thinge, that the more easily made her encline unto the king's appetite, when he required her. Howbeit the respect of his royaltie, the hope of gay apparel, ease, plesure, and other wanton welth, was able soone to perse a soft tender hearte. But when the king had abused her, anon her husband (as he was an honest man, and one that could his good not presuming to touch a kinges concubine) left her up to him al together. When the king died, the lord chamberlen [Hastings] toke her:[ 1] which in the kinges daies, albeit he was sore enamoured upon her, yet he forbare her, either for reverence, or for a certain friendly faithfulness.

"Proper she was, and faire: nothing in her body that you wold have changed, but if you would have wished her somewhat higher. Thus say thei that knew her in her youthe. Albeit some that now see her (for yet she liveth) deme her never to have bene wel visaged: whose jugement seemeth me somewhat like, as though men should gesse the bewty of one longe before departed, by her scalpe taken out of the charnel-house; for now is she old, lene, withered, and dried up, nothing left but ryvilde skin and hard bone. And yet being even such, whoso wel advise her visage, might gesse and devise which partes how filled, wold make it a fair face.

"Yet delited not men so much in her bewty, as in her pleasant behaviour. For a proper wit had she, and could both rede wel and write; mery in company, redy and quick of aunswer, neither mute nor full of bable; sometime taunting without displeasure, and not without disport. The king would say, That he had three concubines, which in three divers properties diversly excelled. One the meriest, another the wiliest, the thirde the holiest harlot in his realme, as one whom no man could get out of the church lightly to any place, but it wer to his bed. The other two wer somewhat greater personages, and natheles of their humilite content to be nameles, and to forbere the praise of those properties; but the meriest was the Shoris wife, in whom the king therfore toke special pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved, whose favour, to sai the trouth (for sinne it wer to belie the devil), she never abused to any mans hurt, but to many a mans comfort and relief. Where the king toke displeasure, she wold mitigate and appease his mind: where men were out of favour, she wold bring them in his grace: for many that had highly offended, shee obtained pardon: of great forfeitures, she gate men remission: and finally in many weighty sutes she stode many men in gret stede, either for none or very smal rewardes, and those rather gay than rich: either for that she was content with the dede selfe well done, or for that she delited to be sued unto, and to show what she was able to do wyth the king, or for that wanton women and welthy be not alway covetous.

"I doubt not some shal think this woman too sleight a thing to he written of, and set amonge the remembraunces of great matters: which thei shal specially think, that happely shal esteme her only by that thei now see her. But me semeth the chaunce so much the more worthy to be remembered, in how much she is now in the more beggerly condicion, unfrended and worne out of acquaintance, after good substance, after as grete favour with the prince, after as grete sute and seeking to with al those, that in those days had busynes to spede, as many other men were in their times, which be now famouse only by the infamy of their it dedes. Her doinges were not much lesse, albeit thei be muche lesse remembred because thei were not so evil. For men use, if they have an evil turne, to write it in marble; and whoso doth us a good tourne, we write it in duste.[ 2] Which is not worst proved by her; for at this daye shee beggeth of many at this daye living, that at this day had begged, if shee had not bene."-- See More's Workes, folio, black-letter, 1557, pp. 56, 57.

Drayton has written a poetical epistle from this lady to her royal lover, and in his notes thereto he thus draws her portrait: "Her stature was meane, her haire of a dark yellow, her face round and full, her eye gray, delicate harmony being betwixt each part's proportion, and each proportion's colour, her body fat, white, and smooth, her countenance cheerfull and like to her condition. The picture which I have seen of hers was such as she rose out of her bed in the morning, having nothing on but a rich mantle cast under one arme over her shoulder, and sitting on a chaire, on which her naked arm did lye. What her father's name was, or where she was borne, is not certainly knowne: but Shore, a young man of right goodly person, wealth and behaviour, abandoned her bed after the king had made her his concubine. Richard III. causing her to do open penance in Paul's church-yard, commanded that no man should relieve her, which the tyrant did, not so much for his hatred to sinne, but that by making his brother's life odious, he might cover his horrible treasons the more cunningly."-- See England's Heroical Epistles, by Michael Drayton, Esq. London, 1637, 12mo.

The history of Jane Shore receives new illustration from the following letter of King Richard III. which is preserved in the Harl. MSS. number 433, article 2378, but of which the copy transmitted to the Editor has been reduced to modern orthography, &c. It is said to have been addressed to Russel Bishop of Lincoln, Lord Chancellor, anno 1484.

By the KING.

"Right Reverend Father in God, &c. signifying unto you, that it is shewn unto us, that our servant and solicitor, Thomas Lynom, marvellously blinded and abused with the late wife of William Shore, now living in Ludgate by our commandment, hath made contract of matrimony with her, as it is said, and intendeth to our full great marvel, to effect the same. WE, for many causes, would be sorry that he should be so disposed; pray you therefore to send for him, and in that ye goodly may, exhort, and stir him to the contrary: and if ye find him utterly set for to marry her, and none otherwise would be advertised, then, if it may stand with the laws of the church, we be content the time of marriage be deferred to our coming next to London; that upon sufficient surety found of her good abearing, ye do so send for her keeper, and discharge him of our said commandment, by warrant of these, committing her to the rule and guiding of her father, or any other, by your direction, in the mean season. Given, &c.
"RIC. Rex."

It appears from two articles in the same manuscript, that King Richard had granted to the said Thomas Linom the office of King's Solicitor (article 134), and also the manor of Colmeworth, corn. Bedf. to him and his heirs male (article 596).

An original picture of Jane Shore almost naked is preserved in the Provost's Lodgings at Eton; and another picture of her is in the Provost's Lodge at King's College, Cambridge: to both which foundations she is supposed to have done friendly offices with Edward IV. A small quarto mezzotinto print was taken from the former of these by J. Faber.

The following ballad is printed, with some corrections, from an old black-letter copy in the Pepys Collection. Its full title is, "The woefull lamentation of Jane Shore, a goldsmith's wife in London, sometime King Edward IV. his concubine. To the tune of 'Live with me,' &c. To every stanza is annexed the following burthen:

Then maids and wives in time amend,
For love and beauty will have end.

IF Rosamonde that was so faire,
Had cause her sorrowes to declare,
Then let Jane Shore with sorrowe sing,
That was beloved of a king.

In maiden yeares my beautye bright
Was loved dear of lord and knight;
But yet the love that they requir'd,
It was not as my friends desir'd.

My parents they, for thirst of gaine,
A husband for me did obtaine;
And I, their pleasure to fulfille,
Was forc'd to wedd against my wille.

To Matthew Shore I was a wife,
Till lust brought ruine to my life;
And then my life I lewdlye spent,
Which makes my soul for to lament.

In Lombard-street I once did dwelle,
As London yet can witnesse welle;
Where many gallants did beholde
My beautye in a shop of golde.

I spred my plumes, as wantons doe,
Some sweet and secret friende to wooe;
Because chast love I did not finde
Agreeing to my wanton minde.

At last my name in court did ring
Into the eares of Englandes king,
Who came and lik'd, and love requir'd,
But I made coye what he desir'd:

Yet Mistress Blague, a neighbour neare,
Whose friendship I esteemed deare,
Did saye, it was a gallant thing
To be beloved of a king.

By her persuasions I was led,
For to defile my marriage-bed,
And wronge my wedded husband Shore,
Whom I had married yeares before.

In heart and mind I did rejoyce,
That I had made so sweet a choice;
And therefore did my state resigne,
To be King Edward's concubine.

From city then to court I went,
To reape the pleasures of content;
There had the joyes that love could bring,
And knew the secrets of a king.

When I was thus advanc'd on highe
Commanding Edward with mine eye,
For Mrs. Blague I in short space
Obtainde a livinge from his grace.

No friende I had but in short time
I made unto a promotion climbe;
But yet for all this costlye pride,
My husbande could not mee abide.

His bed, though wronged by a king,
His heart with deadlye griefe did sting;
From England then he goes away
To end his life beyond the sea.

He could not live to see his name
Impaired by my wanton shame;
Although a prince of peerlesse might
Did reape the pleasure of his right.

Long time I lived in the courte,
With lords and ladies of great sorte;
And when I smil'd all men were glad,
But when I frown'd my prince grewe sad,

But yet a gentle minde I bore
To helplesse people, that were poore;
I still redrest the orphans crye,
And sav'd their lives condemnd to dye.

I still had ruth on widowes tears
I succour'd babes of tender yeares;
And never look'd for other gaine
But love and thankes for all my paine.

At last my royall king did dye,
And then my dayes of woe grew nighe,
When crook-back Richard got the crowne,
King Edwards friends were soon put downe.

I then was punisht for my sin,
That I so long had lived in;
Yea, every one that was his friend,
This tyrant brought to shamefull end.

Then for my lewd and wanton life,
That made a strumpet of a wife,
I penance did in Lombard-street,
In shamefull manner in a sheet.

Where many thousands did me viewe,
Who late in court my credit knewe;
Which made the teares run down my face,
To thinke upon my foul disgrace.

Not thus content, they took from mee
My goodes, my livings, and my fee,
And charg'd that none should me relieve,
Nor any succour to me give.

Then unto Mrs. Blague I went,
To whom my jewels I had sent,
In hope therebye to ease my want,
When riches fail'd, and love grew scant:

But she denyed to me the same
When in my need for them I came;
To recompence my former love,
Out of her doores shee did me shove.

So love did vanish with my state,
Which now my soul repents too late;
Therefore example take by mee,
For friendship parts in povertie.

But yet one friend among the rest,
Whom I before had seen distrest,
And sav'd his life, condemn'd to die,
Did give me food to succour me:

For which, by lawe, it was decreed
That he was hanged for that deed;
His death did grieve me so much more,
Than had I dyed myself therefore.

Then those to whom I had done good,
Durst not afford mee any food;
Whereby I begged all the day,
And still in streets by night I lay.

My gowns beset with pearl and gold,
Were turn'd to simple garments old;
My chains and gems and golden rings,
To filthy rags and loathsome things.

Thus was I scorn'd of maid and wife,
For leading such a wicked life;
Both sucking babes and children small,
Did make their pastime at my fall.

I could not get one bit of bread,
Whereby my hunger might be fed:
Nor drink, but such as channels yield,
Or stinking ditches in the field.

Thus, weary of my life, at lengthe
I yielded up my vital strength
Within a ditch of loathsome scent,
Where carrion dogs did much frequent:

The which now since my dying daye,
Is Shoreditch call'd, as writers saye;[ 3]
Which is a witness of my sinne,
For being concubine to a king.

You wanton wives, that fall to lust,
Be you assur'd that God is just;
Whoredome shall not escape his hand,
Nor pride unpunish'd in this land.

If God to me such shame did bring,
That yielded only to a king,
How shall they scape that daily run
To practise sin with every one?

You husbands, match not but for love,
Lest some disliking after prove;
Women, be warn'd when you are wives:
What plagues are due to sinful lives:
Then, maids and wives, in time amend,
For love and beauty will have end.


1. After the death of Hastings she was kept by the Marquis of Dorset, son to Edward IV.'s queen. In Rymer's Fdera is a proclamation of Richard's, dated at Leicester, October 23, 1483, wherein a reward of 1000 marks in money, or 200 a year in land is offered for taking "Thomas late marquis of Dorset," who, "not having the fear of God, nor the salvation of his own soul, before his eyes, has damnably debauched and defiled many maids, widows, and wives, and lived in actual adultery with the wife of Shore."-- Buckingham was at that time in rebellion, but as Dorset was not with him, Richard could not accuse him of treason, and therefore made a handle of these pretended debaucheries to get him apprehended. Vide Rym. Fd. tom. xii. pag. 204.

2. These words of Sir Thomas More probably suggested to Shakspeare that proverbial reflection in Hen. VIII. act iv. scene 2.

"Men's evil manners live in brass: their virtues
We write in water."

Shakspeare, in his play of Richard III. follows More's History of that reign, and therefore could not but see this passage.

3. But it had this name long before; being so called from its being a common Sewer (vulgarly Shore) or drain. See Stow.


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